Aunt Nettie’s Backyard


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June, 1943, America was in the throes of WWII, and Detroit added a race riot to it’s misery. Aunt Nettie, in the midst of turmoil, refused to be a victim. She celebrated life, all of it, the good, the bad, and sometimes the ugly. The narrator of this story, a ten year old niece, Aurora Gloria Luceti, witnessed, during two short months in 1943: one stabbing, one severe beating, one suicide, two shootings, four hospital stays, two redemptions, and a multitude of celebrations, because celebrating life was Nettie’s way. Nettie, the Italian immigrant goddess of her eclectic, deteriorating neighborhood, was the glue that kept many, disjointed elements together. Her beautiful backyard, the product of her own creativity and design, was a bulwark against the seedy, the rundown, and overgrown. She healed neighborhood animals, and created a Heaven out of various degrees of hell. She managed all of this during World War II, when the world was on fire. Where, not long ago, Detroit experienced punishing joblessness, now 30% of all war material was manufactured in Detroit, the Arsenal of Democracy, as President Roosevelt called our city, leaving factories looking for workers. Hires from the South, both black and white, flooded Detroit, eager for work. People, who never worked side by side, were required to do just that, and they didn’t favor the idea. Tensions had been building since the beginning of the War until now, June 1943: The Detroit Race Riot.